(listen to the poem, read by Diane R. Wiener)
It starts weeks before, the day
you walk into the first doctor’s office, the journey
from self. You’re insurance card, ID, copay, a silhouette
at a counter, a series of rectangles—cardboard,
laminated plastic, cloth so crisp it passes
for paper. You’re a series of numbers, a series
of chairs, minutes, hours worn
pliant by waiting. You’re a first name, more numbers:
pounds and inches, sphygmomanometer reading,
temperature, heartrate, benchmarks. You’re half-dressed
in a room, holding a conversation with people in slacks,
in summer tops. They open and close the door, pull
your legs apart, call out to others to come look
behind your knee where the growth is, where they “Ooh”
as they adjust the light, heft and turn with a tongue depressor
and rubber gloves which they don to touch you.
You’re an appointment slot at the surgeon’s office, more
rectangles, more weights and measures, a delay
because your blood pressure is too high, “sweetheart”
to a man your age, “dear” to one who can be your son.
You’re another time, another row of chairs, another morning
lost, preadmin labs—urine, blood—consents, an interview
with another man—last period, sex, able to dress and feed
yourself. You’re handouts, maps, instructions to be kept—
no food or drink after midnight;
scrub at night and again in the morning with disinfectant;
no makeup, perfume, deodorant, lotion.
You’re a last-minute reschedule, an arrival time
rectangles again—insurance, ID—paper bracelet, dry-erase
squiggles, yet another row of chairs then a row of beds,
and the journey to organism is you.
One nurse—last period, sex, able to dress and feed—more
instructions. You’re a pile of clothes removed
in layers, first the baggy top and bottoms,
then the bra and panties, finally shoes
and watch and dental plate. They drop
into a plastic bag, along with ring or crucifix tossed in
like trash. You step into a paper gown.
behind a curtain next to a bed. You pee
over a cup. Another nurse—last period, sex, able to dress and feed—more
instructions. You sit up
from a pillow. Electrodes sprout
from your shoulders, ribs, left hand. Computer
chips metering oxygen levels rest
against your fingers with a line of tape. A tube slides
into the back of your hand. You are a strip
of matress. You are verification.
Two more nurses—last period, sex, able to dress and feed.
You are naked under the paper gown, your hair vanished
under a net. You are very naked. The paper goes
up. Beside your bed, the surgeon scribbles on your thigh,
with a marker from his pocket, air from a vent sketching
a steady line across the triangle above. Another man,
the anesthesiologist is there, reading, asking, peering
into your mouth, up at the displays, over at the IV bag.
You are silence. You are wait. You are lines and angles
on a screen. You are the first gurney in a train of gurneys.
You are piano notes piped into the operating room, its lyrics
a vapor of your past. You are the body on the table,
the arms strapped to paddles, the head beneath the mask,
the thing for eyes and hands to clip and snap and wind
around, the mind struggling through a pater noster,
“whose will be done on earth
as it is in Heaven. Give us this day until ….
(listen to the poem, read by Diane R. Wiener)
My friend says, “How rude.” The man is asleep
on the steps of our hotel. The wind is cold,
and he is lying on bare concrete.
He wakes up at 7:00 pm, when we’re sitting on our beds
after dinner above the awning over his steps,
the city tumbling through our window. He yawns,
then shouts, “Fuck you,” his favorite phrase—
along with “Fuck it” and “Fuck,” which take on nuance,
and “yo momma,” which doesn’t.
My friend says, “Some people,” when glass shatters
on the street below, unmistakably a bottle and a “fuck”
and a woman remonstrating in the space after
it and the next “Yo momma.” My friend sighs and turns
back to Face Book on her phone. We’re in San Francisco
for a Google conference. Sacks and Macey’s are a couple
blocks away, beside the little restaurant with cloth napkins,
coffee, and quiche for twenty dollars.
The service is nonexistent; the staff is French. Only
the American waitress smiles. People have come from all over
the world to learn game development, sales, custom views.
I’m here to learn accessibility. The man is asleep
When we walk by in the morning, drowsy from night time
Fucks and broken bottles. Hours ago He had friends,
laughs, arguments, a woman and a telling silence
with haggling and a familiar clumsiness before and after.
But that was last night. Now he sleeps on the steps again.
At the conference, I stand through the keynote, then sit
On the floor with a half dozen others, also blind or deaf
or not, just sent by companies
considering inclusiveness. They make a few
talks, not all seven. Afterward,
my friend and I have biscuits and Blues, puff pastries,
ice water. The man on the steps is awake
when we get back to the hotel. He’s pacing
up and down the sidewalk, crossing the street,
humming. The “fuck you” starts an hour later. The first
bottle breaks at 10:00 pm. This time, he cackles. More
bottles break at 11:30, 1:00, 2:10. Cars drive
over them. He cackles each time
asphalt and rubber grind glass.
In the morning, we walk past him and his concrete bed
again. We sit on the floor. Accessibility audiences shrink
mostly to the blind. On a break,
my friend and I go
upstairs to hear about optimizing Educational apps—
ease of use, metrics, ability to monitor, blah, blah, blah.
My friend wants a toy owl, so we take
surveys. I say, “Sir, what about accessibility? I’m tired
of testing apps and discovering I can’t use
them. My students can. They’re sighted,” and I hum
with years of folded hands in classrooms tingling
with work I don’t do. My voice is loud,
flat. My palms turn out, lifelines
and splayed fingers numb from not-holding, not-doing,
not-reaching. “Include accessibility on your list.
Tell people about the talks downstairs.” He cuts me
off with paraphrase. Inside, the switch slides
from intense to rage. I know I will lose
my temper. He wants to move on. My friend grabs her owl.
The last accessibility talk has the lowest turnout.
We have dinner at a burger joint that thinks
the ’90’s is old. My friend brings pickles to the table,
more than we’ll ever handle. The walk back stretches, so much
harder than the other nights. My back hurts from sitting
for hours on the floor, with nothing
to lean on. My feet ache, and I’m thirsty
so I sit in the hotel room chair, drinking
water, then orange juice, then water, then
orange juice again. Work wisps
through my head in a rhythm, like the cars beyond
our open window. At one campus, a class and hope
for another. At the second job, the belly pain
of freelancing for one agency till calls stop
all at once. The first bottle of the night breaks
at 9:45. The man didn’t plan for this to be
his future. A second bottle and a third shatter as I fall
asleep beside his awning, wondering
when the current agency will discover I’m ….
He’s haggling again.
The woman is there, and the silence before the “fuck.”
About the Author
Ana Garza G’z has an M.F.A. from California State University, Fresno. Seventy of her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Crab Orchard Review, Damselfly Press, and Presence. She is a court interpreter working in central California.